Fading photos of smiling children still adorn the staircase walls at Ashigakubo Elementary School, one of thousands of educational facilities that have shut in aging Japan over the past 20 years.

The school, which was more than a century old, was forced to close in 2009 when the last few dozen children left to join a bigger school "because they couldn't make any friends," said Mayor Yoshinari Tomita.

The playground was removed after becoming dangerous due to a lack of maintenance, and the swimming pool is now used by ducks and dragonflies.